An electric Kenyan side stormed back in the second half of the Hong Kong Sevens Bowl Final to edge the USA out 12-14. A 28-14 win over Scotland in the Bowl Semifinal earlier in the day gave the Eagles momentum that they carried into the final, but couldn't finish Kenya off.
The first half saw the Eagles work extremely hard on defense, holding Kenyan ball-carriers up in contact and counter rucking well.
Rookie Rocco Mauer got over for the Eagles first after gathering a slick flick pass from his captain, Shalom Suniula, and burning down the touch line for 60 meters.
Mauer and Suniula played a key role in the next USA score stepping and bunching up Kenyan defenders on the right side of the field and then stretching them out left. Colin Hawley kept good width and depth and strolled in untouched, but worked to score under the posts.
Up 12-0 at the half, the Eagles were simply out played in the second period.
It began when Humphrey Kayange splintered the USA defense with an excellent angled run. Suniula nearly cut him off before he got to the try line, but the tall Kenyan stretched out and scored his team's first points of the game.
Kenya pinched the ball from the Eagles to start their second scoring move. Kenyan and American bodies were piling up in the ruck and a quick pass released Willy Ambaka Ndayara for a try. With the successful conversion the Kenyans took a 14-12 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Late in the game the Eagles worked their way deep into the Kenyan half and made an aggressive call to quick tap when the Kenyans were penalized 15 meters in front of their own posts. The Eagles backed themselves to score and button the game up, but couldn't breach the defense. Kenya got a turnover eventually and kicked the ball a mile into the east stands to end the game.
Despite the loss, the Eagles showed improvement over the course of the three day tournament.
The Bowl Semifinal win against Scotland showed a glimpse of the type of rugby the Eagles aim to play; entrepreneurial and instinctive, featuring a high work rate on and off the ball.
"We're working hard to get the culture right on the field," said USA Head Coach, Alex Magleby of his team's improvement. "It's a work in progress, but we now have a good foundation to work from."
The 2012 Hong Kong Sevens was historic for the Eagles for two reasons. First, 22 year-old Zack Test broke the all-time record for USA tries on the IRB Sevens Series, tallying 48 scores in his young career. Second, the Scotland win was Magleby's first as head coach after taking over for Al Caravelli earlier this month.
The USA plays next weekend in the Tokyo Sevens from March 31-April 1.
Hong Kong Sevens Bowl Final
Tries: Mauer, Hawley
Tries: Kayange, Ndayara
Hong Kong Sevens Bowl Semifinal
Tries: Hawley, Palefau, Test, Punimata
Cons: Suniula (4)
Tries: Cairns, Fleming
Cons: Gregor (2)
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